According to the 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, a staggering 43.6 per cent of Nigerian children are stunted – not growing at the pace they should. Are you in manufactured food business? What is the nutritional value of your product? Will your product help nourish your customers and ensure they remain healthy enough to make repeat purchases?
The fight against nutritional deficiencies can only be won with a multifaceted approach. It calls for individuals, food producers and the government joining hands together to ensure success. In the last few years, there has been some heightened level of nutrition awareness amongst some Nigerians. Primarily as a result of the volume of information that is readily available on the internet. Despite this, the level of nutrition knowledge amongst the larger percentage of the populace remains low. How do you explain a consumer that says that ‘boiled corn has less carbohydrate than roasted corn’? Or a young lady on a reducing diet feasting on fruits and saying ‘I have tried to lose weight but the reading on my scale is not moving downwards’. For this lady fruits are not carbohydrates and so should not affect her weight.
For food producers or manufacturers on the other hand, there is a need to consciously ensure that foods meant for consumers provide the required nutrients. In addition they should provide sufficient nutritional information on their product packs, for consumers to make informed food choices. The mother that buys food for her young child is totally dependent on the producer to ensure that the content of the product she buys meet the need of her child. We eat a pack of chin-chin or plantain chips and may not be aware of the amount of carbohydrate, fat or salt it contains.
Does food producers know what to do?
Whilst we cannot argue that every business is set out to be financially viable, however, the food producer should approach his/her enterprise from the mindset of a social entrepreneur. A shift in orientation is what is needed such that it is possible for the producer to achieve both objectives. The starting point therefore is for the food producer to have some nutrition knowledge or get the service of an expert in this area. This will be one way to ensure provision of nutritious products and communicate clearly the product nutritional benefit on labels.
Observation shows that some producers of packaged goods feed on the poor knowledge of consumers, and therefore make unsubstantiated claims on their product labels. Some others just go with the flow of what is in vogue. How do you explain ‘gluten free’ yam flour? In the first place, gluten only exists in some grains so why put such a claim on a root tuber? In other instances there is no nutrition information to consumers at all on the pack. So, is this the case of the producer not having the right nutrition knowledge about his/her product and therefore cannot properly label or is there nothing nutritional about the product?
Is there a consumer knowledge gap?
For many Nigerians the daily contact with nutrition is mainly on food product labels. Nutrition as a subject only starts to be taught in secondary school and even at that it is not compulsory. Even for those that take the subject, it is Home Economics and Nutrition with the former been the greater subject content. No wonder the ability to make informed food choices in adulthood becomes a problem. Research has shown that a lot of the common food-related ailments like diabetes and obesity can be prevented or the incidences reduced if there is adequate nutrition knowledge. The educational system may have to consider introducing nutrition as a subject right from primary school. There is certainly a gap in knowledge.
Making foods nutritious is possible
Whilst the consumers struggle to understand basic balanced diet, the producer should be positioned to provide information in simple understandable language to guide the consumer in making healthy food choices. It is a responsibility the food producer cannot leave to government food regulatory agencies alone. As a consumer, I want to know what a packet of plantain chips can contribute nutritionally to my daily food intake requirement. Indeed what does it do for me? It is not enough to list out ingredients in quantities I do not understand. I want to know if your product will help improve my eyesight, help my skin glow or increase my energy level to work. In the case of children’s foods the mum wants to know if the food will promote growth, make the child have strong bones and teeth.
A call for social Impact
How does your product ensure that if consumed, can contribute to a greater workforce for tomorrow? Does your product offer good nutrition, or empty calories?’ As businesses you control the product, have the reach and can trigger the desires of the consumer, put your assets to good use, you are critical in this fight against malnutrition. The 2013 Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey indicates that 25 per cent of our women population are overweight/obese. The time is now for food producers especially the small and medium enterprises to act. After all, you cannot claim what you don’t have in your products.
As government and researches identify nutritional gaps and prevalent deficiencies, it is the social responsibility of every food producer to help fill these gaps. Today, it is clear that we have issues of micronutrient deficiencies. Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc are some of the areas that food producers can work on to improve guaranteed consumption by the populace. Some of these nutrients can be either incorporated in foods by fortification or ensuring the use of food produce that already contains these nutrients. The work of ensuring a healthier nation and consequently a more productive work force is in our hands.
Ukoh is Chief Executive Officer, Entod Marketing Ltd